Bees, Trees, Elephants & People

by Michele Thomson September 02, 2019

As you know, 5% of proceeds of every Ferocious Love purchase goes towards wildlife conservation groups focused on endangered animals. We are thrilled to have made our Spring/Summer donation to the Bees, Trees, Elephants & People project run by Elephant’s Alive. Thank you to everyone who has made a purchase between April and August 2019. The Bees, Trees, Elephants & People project is producing amazing results, including the protection of iconic trees, prevention of human-wildlife conflict, and sustainable income for local communities.

Bees & Elephants

Elephants eat A LOT and they love to munch on trees, which can cause heavy impact to certain tree species in South Africa’s savannas. For this reason, the Elephants Alive team was tasked by the South African National Parks to find a method to protect iconic tree species such as the Marula tree from elephant impact.

In order to divert the big guys and gals from specific areas, they partnered with Dr. Lucy King to utilize elephants’ instinctive fear and avoidance of African honeybees as an advantage. Dr. King had already worked on a study to find a solution to crop-raiding elephants in local communities in Kenya. Essentially, Dr. King placed beehives of African honeybees in locations that needed protection from elephants. Yep, that’s right. The world’s largest land animal is a big chicken when it comes to bees.

Human-Wildlife Conflict

Following Dr. King’s success, Elephants Alive is using the same technique to keep elephants away from specific trees within the Greater Kruger National Park.

Marula trees are important fruit-bearing trees and are culturally significant in South Africa. Past management practices have focused on reducing elephant numbers as a solution to saving big trees. This management practice has been debunked and current research focuses on managing where and how elephants affect their environment, rather than elephant numbers alone. This bee project creates a peaceful solution to protect the trees and prevents conflict between humans and elephants.

Ronny Makukule,  Joel Sithole and Robin Cook

The Project

Bees, Trees, Elephants & People project is being led by Elephants Alive’s Director Dr. Michelle Henley and Big Trees Project Manager Robin Cook (MSc). I chatted with them them via email to learn about the project’s impact.

“… our bee project, which is primarily situated in a private big 5 reserve*, can now take on a community aspect to promote the connections between elephants, humans, trees and bees.” Robin

So far, Elephants Alive team has crafted 115 beehives and set up beehive nodes in specific areas in a beehive study site at Jejane Private Nature Reserve within the Greater Kruger National Park. Each beehive node is run by successful conservation-orientated, non-government organizations (NGO) to create beehive nodes within community regions adjacent to the Greater Kruger National Park. One of the NGOs in charge is the Black Mamba Anti Poaching Unit. If you haven’t heard about the Black Mambas, you’ll want to check out these super women.

Community members are will be trained in beekeeping skills, maintain the hives and then run the project on their own. They also profit from the sale of the honey -- a small percentage of proceeds goes back towards elephant conservation and the remaining balance goes to their community upliftment programs. This gives the bonus of creating a positive local economy!








Changing Mindsets

Often people have a fear of bees. Robin said this was also the case in local communities. Two of their staff members, Ronny Makukule and Joel Sithole, were once afraid of bees since childhood but can now easily work with bees. They now share their knowledge and train others how to respect bees for their ecological and economic value.

Ronny Makukule. Bee Project Officer and Research Assistant


Lucern (alfalfa) field, future home to vegetable garden and more bees.

Teams are also establishing vegetable gardens for the bees within the nodes. The gardens will be a part of the upliftment programs to ensure the bees have a rich environment to thrive.

“Their pollination services will promote vegetable growth within the nodes. All of these nodes will require tender nurture and care, and so we are ensuring that we have reliable markets available to each node to make them profitable.” Robin & Michelle

I asked Robin if anything funny or unexpected happened during this project. I had a sneaking feeling that anything involving bees and humans could get interesting.

“Whilst not very funny at the time, we once had a bee swarm chase us for 15 minutes in the middle of the savanna. The poor beekeepers had to rush to the back of an open vehicle, which hurtled down the road to lose the bees. However, the vehicle ended up bumping into two white rhinos on the road, which enabled the bees to catch up to the car and so we had to make a U-turn and drive back the other way to lose both the bees and the rhinos. It was an adrenaline rushed 15 minutes which reminded us how our beekeeping environment is so very different to the beekeeper in the city!” Robin

Never a dull moment in conservation!

The groups have also created honey-related products such as soap, beeswax wraps, lip balms and of course honey. Robin said there has been a good response for their all-natural bee products. Consumers are also very supportive knowing that the bees are linked to a conservation research project within the protected areas.

Great job Elephants Alive for keeping the elephants safe and for promoting a peaceful solution for the park and local community.

Robin Cook (MSc) Big Trees Project Manager (Mitigation strategies and vulture surveys) and  Dr. Michelle Henley – Elephants Alive Co-founder, Director & Principal Researcher

Photos courtesy of Elephants Alive!

*In Africa, the Big Five game animals are the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. Traditionally, the “Big 5” were the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot in Africa, but today they are the top five animals that people hope to see on safari.

Michele Thomson
Michele Thomson


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